It’s official now, the Houston Rockets will have the 23rd and 24th picks in the 2021 NBA draft. While the fate of the Rockets’ own first-round pick is still up in the air, if it’s one through four they keep it but if it lands at fifth it will be swapped with the Oklahoma City Thunder and become the 18th pick, the Rockets at least have some certainty towards the back end of the first round.
The Rockets secured the 23rd pick when they traded Robert Covington to the Portland Trail Blazers and netted the 24th pick through a swap with the Milwaukee Bucks when they traded P.J. Tucker at midseason. Saying you have a first-round pick is awesome but what is the expected value of each pick?
Houston Rockets Draft: The Expected value of the 23rd and 24th picks
Since the 1976 NBA draft, the 23rd pick has produced an average of 18.2 win shares over the course of their career, while the 24th pick has produced an average of 21.1. This doesn’t mean that the 24th pick is magically better than the 23rd, but rather that the picks, as one would guess, are very similar in value.
45 drafts seem like a lot but in data terms, it is rather small and a few outliers can easily skew the overall numbers. Now to put a face to 18.2 and 21.1 win shares. From the 2008 NBA draft, Jerryd Bayless produced 18.6 career win shares in 11 seasons and O.J. Mayo produced 21.8 in eight seasons.
Neither player was a star and both were more rotation pieces than starters. That’s what you get when you draft in the 20’s, rotation pieces, and anything more is pure gravy. This isn’t to say there haven’t been stars found that late in the draft, but that it’s incredibly unlikely.
Houston Rockets Draft: The best 23rd and 24th picks since the NBA-ABA merger
The best player drafted with the 23rd pick, in terms of career win shares since 1976, was Alex English who produced 100.7 career win shares to go along with eight All-Star appearances, three All-NBA selections, one scoring title, and immortalization in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, the best player drafted with the 24th pick was Terry Porter who produced 110.4 career win shares but only managed to make three All-Star teams.
It would be great if the Rockets landed the next Alex English or Terry Porter but chances are they’ll find someone who can come off the bench for close to a decade. The 23rd and 24th picks aren’t all that different which gives the Rockets two chances to find the next surprise superstar or round out their bench.